The first time I entered Zendegi, a natural and organic clothing shop in Tel Aviv’s historic Neve Tzedek neighborhood, a particularly unique pair of boots caught my eye. I picked up the boots to take a closer look, but quickly realized that they were out of my intern-activist-blogger budget range.
“But you have to understand why!” exclaimed Shirly Askary, the store’s proprietor. Shirly explained that the boots are made of 100% organic cotton and natural rubber soles. Furthermore, they are hand-sewn by a Palestinian man in Hebron, who receives a fair wage for his labor.
The boots, as well as the organic, hand-loomed cotton clothing, hand-crafted gemstone jewelry, and natural bath and body products reflect Shirly’s ambitious vision for her store.
Shirly eschews the mass-marketing logic of consumerism. She believes people should invest a little more in a few high quality, long-lasting goods, instead of continously buying more and more to meet consumerism-driven needs. “You change into living a life where you don’t need much, and instead just enjoy using what you do have,” she explains.
Zendegi, which means “life” in Farsi, aims to express this belief. The store carries a variety of organic cotton clothes – pants, skirts, dresses, camisoles, etc. – that exceed common industry standards for “organic-ness.” Although organic cotton avoids the heavy pesticides of conventionally grown cotton (a plus for both the ecosystem and our health!), even “organic” products can contain up to five percent non-organic content. Dyes, for instance, are not organic, even if they are natural, vegetable-based colors. Zendegi’s clothes are all a natural white (at least for the meantime. Shirly plans to experiment this summer with an Indian dying method that uses special bacteria to set colors from flowers and vegetables).
“I think in a country like Israel it’s very important because of the heat, and the sun, and the summer – we sweat so much!” Shirly emphasizes. “We need clothes that absorb our sweat without the chemicals.”
Sustainability and health concerns aside, Shirly also points out the high quality of Zendegi’s wares. Hand loomed cotton is a bit open, so when it is washed the fibers cling together, making the garment softer and fluffier every time. And although other stores in Tel Aviv like Cotton and Katanchic are beginning to hop on the organic bandwagon, Zendegi is still the only store to offer a hand-loomed selection.
According to Shirly, Zendegi, which opened in 2008, is still a work in progress. She hopes that, “one day Zendegi will be a center where people can come and either buy what they need – clothes, cosmetics, shoes, all the elementary stuff – all natural, all fair trade, and they will know it’s good quality, it’s been made under fair trade. That everything that’s been promised to them is true.”
More on organic cotton in Israel and the Middle East:
Abdulla Carries Natural, Organic Textiles in the Heart of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar
Cotton’s Organic Clothes are Soft on the Environment
No Sweat Apparel’s Organic Ts Help Bring Peace to the Middle East